The city of St. Paul gave a special welcome to recent Brazilian émigré Daniela Pezzini Tuesday night — it towed her car.

“I just moved here,” a frowning Pezzini said Wednesday as she and a friend stood in a growing line of people waiting to retrieve their vehicles at the St. Paul Police Department Snow Emergency Impound Lot after the city declared its first snow emergency of the winter. “And I just bought my car, too. I don’t understand.”

It seems that snow emergencies aren’t all that common in South America. But in Minneapolis and St. Paul, it’s a sure sign that winter has arrived. And when the first one of the year is declared, as it was Tuesday in both cities, it often catches hundreds of residents by surprise.

Between 9 p.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Wednesday, Minneapolis impounded 670 cars. During that same period, 476 cars were towed in St. Paul and parking enforcement officers issued 1,306 tickets. A spokeswoman for Minneapolis said the city doesn’t want to tow cars, but the streets need to be cleared.

A snow emergency requires parked vehicles to be off streets that need plowing.

City officials may say they don’t want to tag and tow, but the expensive setback for vehicle owners is a healthy revenue generator for city coffers.

In St. Paul, residents get their cars back only after forking over $209, and that’s if they retrieve their vehicle before midnight of the day it is towed. If not, the city tacks on another $15 for each day the car remains on the impound lot. A snow emergency ticket by itself is $56.

In Minneapolis, the $45 snow emergency ticket goes to the county. The city charges $138 for the tow and another $18 a day for each day a car stays on the lot.

‘I feel really, really bad’

Joyce Thomas was left shaking her head in sympathy Wednesday for what those unlucky hundreds of car owners had to pay. She was at the St. Paul impound lot, across from the Como gates of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, to help a friend who needed a ride because his car had been towed.

“It’s so much money,” she said, waiting for her friend to fetch his car. “I guess they should pay attention to the news and stuff like that. But I feel really, really bad.”

For one St. Paul woman, the prospect of a hefty bill was apparently too much to handle, so when she saw her car being towed shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, she sprang into action.

She ran out of her home in the 600 block of Burr Street, yelled at the tow truck driver, jumped in her car and tried to drive off, according to police.

Problem was, her car was halfway up the flatbed of a tow truck when she jumped into the front passenger seat, slid over to the driver’s seat and started the engine.

“She drove forward up on the bed of the truck and was not able to drive it backward off the truck because it was secured by chains and cables,” said St. Paul police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster.

Police officers persuaded the woman to return to her home and filled her in about why the city called a snow emergency — to clear vehicles off the streets so plows can remove snow.

The woman told police she was unaware of the snow emergency, Ernster said.

Lilly Richard was unaware, too. Like Pezzini, Richard is new to St. Paul. Unlike her Brazilian counterpart, she’s not a snow emergency neophyte — she’s from Iowa.

As Richard, whose car was towed Tuesday night, stood in a line that snaked out the door of the impound office, she looked a little sheepish when asked if she was aware that the snow emergency had been called.

“I guess I wasn’t paying attention,” she said, smiling.

City officials and tow truck drivers aren’t totally devoid of sympathy, but a car owner’s timing, at least in St. Paul, has to be just right. Even if a motorist’s vehicle is hooked up to a tow truck, they still have a chance to avoid the hefty impound fees by paying a drop fee to have their cars released at the scene for $75, which is standard for all tow truck companies that contract with the city of St. Paul during snow emergencies.

Of course, car owners still have to pay the $56 citation fee at the scene to have their vehicle released.

For more information about snow emergencies in St. Paul and Minneapolis — and how to find and retrieve your car if it was hauled away during the night — visit www.stpaul.gov/snow or call 651-266-PLOW (for St. Paul) or visit www.minneapolismn.gov/snow/index.htm or call (612) 348-SNOW (for Minneapolis).